The Buckeye Vote: Controversy Sits on Ohio’s Ballot Next Week

Ohio voters will decide on issues dividing the country at large.

When Ohio voters go to the polls on Nov. 7, they’ll vote on two hot-button ideological issues that continue to divide the country: reproductive freedom and medical marijuana.

Under consideration are Issue 1: The Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative and Issue 2: The Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would codify reproductive rights and the right to use marijuana recreationally.

In a state who’s congressional and senate delegations include conservatives like Jim Jordan and J.D. Vance, the thought of someone walking down Columbus’s High Street to check out the Ohio State/Michigan game at their favorite sports bar while smoking a joint doesn’t quite sit well.

But Ohio is only seen as solidly red due to outspoken legislators and heavily gerrymandered political maps that remain so despite a 2022 ruling from the state’s Supreme Court ordering they be redrawn, said Jeff Winbush, a political columnist based in Ohio.

“I would say that Ohio is purple,” he said. “We have all of these democratic cities like Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati, and we have all these MAGA-red counties in the rural areas.”

That dichotomy, and a bit of a Libertarian streak, led to the ballot initiatives voters will be deciding on in November, Winbush said. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling eliminating the federal right to legal abortion caused many Ohioans to consider whether women’s reproductive freedoms were being protected.

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However, voters heading to the polls in Ohio might be scratching their heads a little thinking that they’ve already voted on the matter. Despite a law signed in January that eliminated special elections unless a fiscal emergency is involved, a special election was held in August on another resolution, also called Issue 1, that would have amended the process of amending Ohio’s constitution.

Had it passed, anyone wishing to put such an amendment on the ballot would need a 60 percent supermajority to do so, rather than the 51 percent required currently. It was opposed across party lines and defeated, but has confused voters who think they’re voting on abortion rights.

There has also been too much emphasis placed on the “including abortion” part of the initiative and not enough on the “right to make reproductive decisions” part as it’s presented on the ballot, said Dr. Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

If passed, the initiative would prohibit the state from interfering with any decision that a woman makes regarding her reproductive rights. While abortion would be illegal at the point where a baby is considered viable – 23 weeks under Ohio law – doctors would be able to perform one if the mother’s life is threatened.

The need for these rights is especially acute for Black women, Moss said. From being forced to have children during slavery to provisions of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which denied additional aid to women who had children while on welfare, Black women haven’t always been able to control their own reproductive destiny.

“This initiative enforces the right to reproductive medical treatment,” she said. “That medical treatment includes abortion, but voters are also voting on contraception and it’s really important that people understand that. The way that it’s been presented and its emphasis on abortion appeals to a political view.”

The Marijuana Legalization Initiative would allow Ohioans over 21 to buy and possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis, have 15 ounces of high-potency cannabis with a THC content of 60 percent or more and grow up to six plants. It would also allow the state of Ohio to impose a 10 percent tax on cannabis, which would go toward drug treatment, social equity and jobs programs.

Voters that didn’t participate in the August special election will be walking into a new voting landscape, said Kayla Griffin, state director for All Voting is Local, a nationwide effort to protect voting rights. In addition to the special election provision, photo IDs are now needed to vote in person.

Acceptable identification includes an Ohio driver's license, a state ID, U.S. passport, passport card, military ID or interim identification issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Voters are no longer allowed to use utility bills or bank statements as alternative forms of identification.

If you need more information on the new law or want to participate in the get out the vote efforts of the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition, of which All Voting is Local is a part, visit the coalition website.

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